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Bush hit for linking Iraq to vote

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has been criticized for claiming that his re-election in 2004 was a ratification of his policy on Iraq.

In an interview with the Washington Post on Sunday, Bush was asked why no one in his administration had been held accountable for perceived missteps on Iraq policy, including being wrong about weapons of mass destruction.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election," he was reported as saying.

"The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates and chose me, for which I'm grateful."

Some Democrats have flatly dismissed that claim.

"The policy is ridiculous," Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts said.

One of Kennedy's concerns was Bush's decision to launch an invasion of Iraq while Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, remained free.

"It (was) a mistake when we went into this, into Iraq, instead of following Osama bin Laden. They didn't have the number of troops that were necessary. They disbanded the Iraqi army."

Asked in the Post interview why he thought bin Laden had not been found, Bush replied, "Because he's hiding.

"I am pleased about the hunt, and I am pleased that he's isolated," Bush said.

"I will be more pleased when he's brought to justice, and I think he will be."

Kennedy told CBS' "Face the Nation" that Iraq is "a disaster" and the "result of blunder after blunder after blunder."

"Until Iraqis are going to fight for their own country, we are going to have a very, very dangerous situation."

Other critics of the president's policies have repeated Kennedy's concerns.

"I think the American people obviously re-elected him. That doesn't mean they agree with all of his policies relative to Iraq or all of the ways in which the Iraq war has been fought," Senator Carl Levin said.

Bush is standing by his actions, expressing no regret about removing Saddam Hussein from power.

"On a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad," Bush told the Post.

The interview comes as Bush prepares to begin a second term in office.

Aides say his inaugural address will emphasize freedom, and the president's vision of spreading democracy worldwide, with a focus on Iraq.

Administration officials stress the January 30 Iraq elections are just the beginning of what they hope will be democracy emerging in the region.

White House spokesman Dan Bartlett explained that the president believed "there was two very different, competing versions or visions of what was happening in Iraq" and that "the American people agreed with his assessment."

"That's not to say that, as he went on to say in the interview, that there were not different things that we look at of things we expected to happen or things that didn't happen," Bartlett told "Fox News Sunday."

"And this administration is taking steps in that regard."

The president acknowledged that the reputation of the United States has diminished in some parts of the world and that his administration must "continue to do a better job" of explaining the rationale behind its actions.

"Some of the decisions I've made up to now have affected our standing in parts of the world," he said, later adding that he believes "when it's all said and done, those in the Muslim world who long for peace will see that the policies of this government will lead to peace."

Bartlett said Bush's comments to the paper focused on the fact that during the election, "there was a case made that the course taken by this administration was the wrong course when it came to Iraq."

"It was heard by the American people, and they embraced President Bush's vision," he said.

Kennedy, however, said Bush's policies in Iraq have grave consequences.

"Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves this very basic question," he said.

"And that is, is the face of the United States part of the liberation and security and the stability in that country, or are we a force that is perceived to be expanding the kind of uncertainty and savagery and revolution that's taking place there?"

Kennedy was a high-profile supporter of his fellow Massachusetts senator, John Kerry, whom Bush defeated in the November presidential election.

CNN Correspondent Elaine Quijano contributed to this report

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